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Black Experiences Portrayal in Langston Hughes’ Poems Essay

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Updated: May 24th, 2021

Introduction

Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was a famous American poet, novelist and writer. His texts touch upon a number of problems, in particular, ones pertaining to being a representative of the Back race. Hughes’ poems convey a strong sense of African or African American identity, describing numerous experiences, usually highly adverse ones, which Black peoples had throughout the course of history, and which might unite them around this identity. The Blacks are portrayed in his poems as people faced by numerous challenges that they have to overcome while battling the injustice and prejudice that they experienced historically. The current paper discusses in detail the manner in which Hughes describes the African/African American identity, as well as experiences portrayed in a number of his poems. In addition, the challenges and the prejudice that Africans or African Americans are faced with in Hughes’ poems, and the poetic techniques utilized to tell about them, are also considered.

African / African American Identity

As has been noted, the poetry written by Langston Hughes often conveys the sense of African or African American identity, and describes a wide range of experiences which were lived through by numerous representatives of this ethnic group throughout the course of the history of humanity. This sense of identity is very strong in a large number of his poems; for instance, in “The South,” the author speaks of his “dark hands,” also writing about the extinguished light of hope and the thick wall standing in front of him; the thick, dark shadow which is cast by that wall is probably related to the darkness of his hands, but it symbolizes the adversity that Blacks historically often found themselves in (Hughes, “As I Grew Older”).

Therefore, apart from clearly describing one’s racial identity, the poet utilizes the images of the wall and the shadow, thus employing these metaphors in order to remind the readers that having a Black identity is often related to being deprived of opportunities and having one’s dreams shattered (Hughes, “As I Grew Older”). Furthermore, in “Negro,” the poet also tells his readers about the identity of a “negro,” a Black person, showing that this identity is strongly tied to a number of highly adverse situations and conditions which the representatives of the African and African American peoples found themselves living in throughout the course of the history of humanity, and therefore creating common grounds for anyone who is a representative of the Black race (Hughes, “Negro”). Therefore, the poetry created by Hughes strongly conveys the sense of African or African American identity by describing the common experiences of the Black peoples and appealing to the history of the latter.

Experiences Shared by Black People

On the whole, it is clear that the experiences that are described in Hughes’ poetry are often those which were shared by the representatives of the Black peoples. For instance, in “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” the author, writing in the first person, utilizes such a poetic technique as the creation of a voice of “a negro” that speaks of “knowing” rives that were “ancient as the world,” mentioning the Congo, the Euphrates, and the Nile, African rivers, as well as the Mississippi, an American river (Hughes, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”).

It might be possible to state that in this manner, the poet tells of the experiences of African and African American individuals pertaining to living in the named areas and participating in the numerous events taking place throughout the course of history. Similarly, in “Negro,” the author writes about having been a slave, a worker, a victim, and about being “a Negro,” creating the images of pyramids built by the representatives of the African peoples, or serving as slaves to such figures as Caesar and Washington (Hughes, “Negro”). The literary technique of creating image patterns where Black people mainly work and serve others while suffering from various types of abuse is utilized in these descriptions.

Challenges and Injustice Black People Were Faced With

As it can be seen, the author writes rather much about the injustices and challenges that the African and African American people were faced with over centuries and even millennia. The challenges that the Black individuals met are described, for example, in such a poem as “As I Grew Older.” The author speaks of facing a thick wall, which apparently rose in front of him due to his hands being dark, that is, because of his being a Black individual (Hughes, “As I Grew Older”). It appears clear that in order to again experience the “light of dream,” which was dispelled by the dark shadow cast by the wall, shimmering in front of him, the author needs to overcome the challenge which is represented by the thick wall (Hughes, “As I Grew Older”). The poet also calls to his “dark hands,” asking them to help to break through the wall (Hughes, “As I Grew Older”), which probably denotes the notion that the representatives of the African American people should unite in order to respond to and overcome this challenge together.

The tone and the mood which are employed in the poem also convey the sense of the need to shatter the wall, to overcome the challenge that the Black people are faced with; it is noteworthy that the technique of creating images helps the author to translate this message. It is easy to note that the named challenge is also unjust, for it arises due to prejudice against the Blacks rather than because of specific personal characteristics of separate individuals. This can be seen not only in “As I Grew Older,” but in other poems as well; in “The South,” for example, the poet creates the image of the beautiful, “sunny-faced” South, which, however, has the “blood on its mouth” (Hughes, “The South”). Clearly, this refers to the role of the Southern states prior to and during the Civil War; the slavery which was still practiced in the American South at those times is also additionally pointed out by referring to cotton (Hughes, “The South”). To give some more examples of the injustices that African and African American people were faced with, it is possible to cite Hughes’ “Negro,” where the author writes not only of Black person’s being a slave but also of their being a victim, both in Africa and in the U.S., for instance, of Belgians’ cruelty in the Congo or during the still existent at the time when the poem was written lynching practices in the state of Mississippi (Hughes, “Negro”).

Conclusion

On the whole, it should be stressed that the poetry written by Hughes, utilizing a number of literary techniques, touches upon several issues which include such topics as the African or African American identity, the numerous experiences that the representatives of the Black race had throughout the course of history, as well as the challenges and the prejudice that they were faced with as the history of humanity unfolded. The poetry written by the author inspires his community to unite around the Black identity and overcome the challenges that they experience in their lives as the representatives of the Black peoples.

Works Cited

Hughes, Langston. All Poetry, Web.

Amanda A., Web.

Poets.org, Web.

Poetry Nook, Web.

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1. IvyPanda. "Black Experiences Portrayal in Langston Hughes' Poems." May 24, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/black-experiences-portrayal-in-langston-hughes-poems/.


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IvyPanda. 2021. "Black Experiences Portrayal in Langston Hughes' Poems." May 24, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/black-experiences-portrayal-in-langston-hughes-poems/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Black Experiences Portrayal in Langston Hughes' Poems'. 24 May.

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